Westerville News & Public Opinion

Hollins consulted district before filing repeal protest

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The Westerville lawyer who protested the placement of a Westerville City Schools tax repeal consulted with the district and its lawyers prior to filing his paperwork with the Franklin County Board of Elections, district emails show.

The emails, between Westerville lawyer Gene Hollins and school board President Kevin Hoffman, Superintendent Dan Good and a district lawyer, show that Hollins asked the district if it was examining a protest to tax-repeal efforts and providing an argument against the repeal.

Ultimately, district attorneys advised that Hollins' argument -- that the 2009 levy could not be repealed because it was a replacement levy -- was unlikely to stand and that the district should not act to file a protest of its own.

"We're unanimous in our assessment of the chances of succeeding in a legal challenge of the repeal effort on the argument described below -- less than 50% chance of prevailing," read an email from Bricker and Eckler attorney Rebecca Princehorn to Hoffman and Good. "Based upon this assessment we suggest that you consider the cost to litigate this matter both in terms of dollars and public reaction to pursuit of a legal claim that lacks a significant chance of winning.

"An alternative course of action for your consideration would be for a School District taxpayer to file a letter of protest."

In earlier emails, Hollins outlined his arguments for the protest with Princehorn, Hoffman and Good and asked if the district was looking to file a protest.

"If (a) another group or a taxpayer has standing and (b) the Board does not want to publicly undertake a legal challenge to the repeal petition, let me know. I can understand why the Board may not want to bring this challenge, but we may not want to let the opportunity pass by," Hollins wrote.

The Franklin County Board of Education and the Ohio Supreme Court both sided with Hollins in the end, stating the 2009 tax could not be repealed because it was a replacement of two earlier levies. The repeal issue was removed from the Nov. 6 ballot.

The 2009 tax carried the same millage amount of the combined original levies, 11.4 mills, but residents did see their taxes increase after that tax was passed because the millage of the two original levies had shrunk over time due to Ohio House Bill 920.

Hollins, Good and Hoffman all maintain that their conversations did not break any Ohio laws stipulating that school districts cannot get involved in elections.

"The board had thoroughly researched that issue, and we're confident that we're in compliance with the law," said district spokesman Greg Viebranz.

Hoffman addressed the matter at a meeting of the Board of Education on Oct. 8.

"I had a community member come forward with an idea, and I referred him to the right people," Hoffman said.

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